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Analysis: Extra offensive lineman giving Bills running game some added punch

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Bills Jets fourth

Buffalo Bills running back Devin Singletary (26) rushes for a touchdown during the fourth quarter at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022.

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Devin Singletary’s 40-yard run on the third play from scrimmage got the Buffalo Bills’ offense rolling in Sunday’s victory over the New York Jets.

It led to the first touchdown, and it came out of a personnel group that has been increasingly beneficial for the Bills’ offense.

The Bills used a sixth offensive lineman to help overpower New York on the line of scrimmage in springing Singletary. Rookie Tommy Doyle lined up at right tackle. Spencer Brown moved to the other side of the line and set up outside of left tackle Dion Dawkins. The Bills used a sixth offensive lineman on 15 plays against the Jets, their most in any game this season.

The Bills have used six linemen on 66 plays overall this season – only 5.7% of their snaps. But last year they used it only on 16 plays the entire regular season (1.5%). Over the second half of this season – since the loss at Jacksonville in the eighth game – the Bills have used six offensive linemen on 45 plays, or 7.6% of the snaps.

The use of the heavy personnel coincides with an increased effort by the Bills to improve the running game. The last five weeks, staring with the loss at Tampa Bay, the Bills have averaged 162 yards a game on the ground. The running ability of quarterback Josh Allen has helped a lot. He’s averaging 67 yards a game the last five weeks.

Nevertheless, the Bills have succeeded in taking some of the pressure off their outstanding passing game down the stretch of the season.

“That’s what you need,” coach Sean McDermott said. “That’s why it’s important to be two-dimensional or the threat of two dimensions on offense, running and passing.”

As with most tactical decisions, it’s mostly driven by matchups. Tampa Bay has one of the beefiest, best defensive lines in the NFL. The Bills were not about to power up with an extra offensive lineman and try to outmuscle the Bucs. Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll had Allen do his running out of spread formations. The Bills used a sixth offensive lineman on just one play in Tampa.

Against Atlanta’s smallish defensive front two weeks ago, the Bills used the sixth offensive lineman on 12 plays in grinding out the victory in the second half.

While the Jets have a pretty stout defensive line, their defense ranks 32nd in the NFL in yards allowed. The Bills rushed 11 times for 73 yards against New York with a sixth offensive lineman on the field. The Bills were 3 of 4 passing for 61 yards out of the heavy personnel set. Allen hit a screen pass to Singletary for 19 yards and a 27-yard play-action pass to Gabe Davis from the group. Mitch Trubisky’s 15-yard completion came with Doyle on the field, too.

How much will the Bills go to six offensive linemen in the wild-card playoff game against New England? Probably not as much, unless the weather is awful. The Patriots have a stout defensive front.

The Bills used a sixth OL on five plays in the win at New England for 13 net yards. That included the fourth-and-1 run by Allen for 8 yards in the fourth quarter. They used it only four plays for 9 net yards in the wind-blown loss to the Patriots in Orchard Park on Dec. 6.

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Bills/NFL writer

Gaughan's insight is featured in the "PlayAction" video series, providing analysis to get Bills fans ready for the next game. He is past president of the Pro Football Writers of America and served as a Pro Football Hall of Fame selector for 12 years.

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